Hello. My name’s Rachel and I’m a Manager in KPMG UK’s Insurance Regulatory practice. In 2010, I graduated from the University of Sussex with a BA (Hons) in International Relations. I was diagnosed with epilepsy just before my 17th birthday.
Tell us about your journey through the recruitment process
Days after graduating, with the hope of achieving a non-profit career, I moved from my family home in Cornwall to a tiny flat in Geneva for a self-funded internship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was a real eye-opener! Following that, I secured another (low-paid) internship with the Open Society Foundation in London and used the last of my savings for the flight home.
The life of poorly paid internships quickly proved to be unsustainable. I barely made the rent and lived off pasta. Within months, I took an administrative job in a training company and was – unsurprisingly – uninspired.
A year later, a recruiter suggested I apply for a role at the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). With no financial services experience, I didn’t hold much hope – but I applied, was successful, and worked in the insurance team for four years before being promoted to Ombudsman.
After several years resolving complaints, I decided to move on. I’d heard of jobs in consulting and it sounded tough. I wasn’t sure I was cut out for it. I started off with a Senior Consultant role at EY, before applying for a promotion opportunity at KPMG. My KPMG application was the first time I mentioned my epilepsy to a prospective employer. Prior to that, I was convinced it would make employers feel they had no choice but to make an offer – that’s the last thing I wanted. I’m much more open-minded now.
How many applications did you submit for a graduate job? How many interviews did you attend?
Oh, hundreds! I didn’t get any of them. Non-graduate work experience got me to where I am today.
What was the most difficult interview question you have been asked and how did you answer?
When seeking promotion to KPMG, one of the interviewers asked me: “How do we know that you’re not applying for this role, to negotiate a promotion in your current job?”
As my then-employer and KPMG were only two roads apart, I replied: “I wouldn’t risk my boss seeing me walk out of here, if I wasn’t ready to move”.
How do you manage your disability at work?
My epilepsy was well-controlled when I joined KPMG, so I didn’t ask for adjustments and got on with things just fine. But 18 months later, my seizures came back with a vengeance. I had a number at my desk in the office and more in my sleep. My four-hour daily commute to and from the office, on top of the day job, became a challenge. I explained this to my team and they were really supportive, arranging an Occupational Health review and agreeing to reasonable adjustments (including working from home, and leaving the office early if I felt tired or unwell).
I offered to do a talk for my team, to help them feel more comfortable working with someone whose seizures were unpredictable. I thought it would be fine, but on the day I was really nervous and my voice did crack a bit during the presentation. We discussed what epilepsy is, the types of seizures I have, and what first aid they should follow when I have one at work. Everyone was so supportive; many reached out to me afterwards and said I was brave for sharing it. I’m glad I did.
Tell us a little about the current work you do and what you enjoy the most about it?
My role at KPMG is very varied – a mixture of project work for large insurance clients, business development to identify future opportunities, and contributing to sales by proposing and pitching ideas to potential clients. I enjoy client meetings where we find out how each business works, what their challenges are and how we can help.
In addition to the day job, I’m a performance manager for assistant managers and graduates. This involves holding regular 1:1 career conversations, discussing wellbeing and attending performance review panels. I really love this aspect of my work – it’s so nice to build long-lasting relationships with colleagues and see them develop over time.
Tell us a bit about yourself outside of work – what do you like to do in your spare time?
In the last two years, I’ve become a keen gardener. I never thought that would happen! My garden is my haven and I can spend hours out there planting herbs and flowers.
What do you wish you knew when you were at university?
That life can be hard, and won’t always seem fair. There are many things you can’t control, and life is easier when you come to accept that.
You’ll never be this free again!
That I’d pay off my debts within 10 years of graduating… I could not believe it when I got that letter recently. It feels so good!
Name a personal strength you have developed as a result of your disability/long term health condition. How does this benefit you in your current role?”
In my final year of university, I had seizures almost every day. Writing four dissertations whilst being that unwell was pretty tough, and my deadline was extended slightly to help me get them in. I learned to cram work when I was less tired, eat regularly and get sufficient sleep. On results day, I opted to stay at home and call the university office whilst my other friends went in person to find their results on the announcement boards. The lady at the other end of the phone simply said, “Congratulations – you got a 2:1”. I was stunned – I’d never thought that was possible – and promptly jumped on a bus to join my friends at the party!
Looking back at those times, I’d say that epilepsy has helped develop my drive and perseverance. One of my favourite quotes is: “Get up, dress up, show up and never give up”.
What advice would you give a student with a similar disability, who wants to pursue a career in the field you work in?
I grew up in a small town called Penzance, in Cornwall, as the granddaughter of a cow farmer and bus driver, and the daughter of a carpenter and office worker. Career prospects have always been limited there – the county relies on tourism. I was the first in my family to go to university, and they were so proud (even posting my graduation news in the local paper, which was hugely embarrassing!) In short – epilepsy aside – this taught me that you shouldn’t let your background or personal struggles hold you back. Set yourself a plan and go for it. Do your best – and don’t be disheartened if some things don’t work out quite as you hoped they would.